The Madras High Court on Thursday dismissed a petition filed by Rajiv Gandhi assassination convict Nalini Sriharan that sought a direction to Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit to decide on the state Cabinet’s recommendation that the convicts be released early, PTI reported. Sriharan is serving a life sentence for her involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
On July 5, Nalini Sriharan was granted parole for 30 days by the Madras High Court for her daughter’s wedding in London.
A division bench comprising Justices R Subbaiah and C Saravanan said that Article 361 of the Constitution gave the governor complete immunity from being questioned or answerable before any court with respect to the discharge of his official duties.
It said questioning the discharge of the act of a governor or failure to discharge his Constitutional obligations cannot be subjected to judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution. Therefore, even the argument that the governor did not take into account the advice given by the council of ministers will not be grounds for the petitioner to approach the court, the bench said.
“The privilege and immunity conferred on the governor under Article 361 is a clear bar on the petitioner to file the present petition,” the order by the bench said. “The governor cannot be equated with the instrumentalities under Article 12 of the Constitution who are amenable to the jurisdiction of this court through writ petition.”
On July 12, the bench had reserved orders on the petition after Sriharan’s counsel had contended that the court could issue an instruction to the governor. The state advocate general had countered it saying the governor enjoys unqualified immunity under Article 361(1) of the Constitution and court could not give orders to him.
On September 9, the state Cabinet had recommended the early release of the seven convicts in the case. Nalini Sriharan had moved the Madras High Court and sought a direction to the governor to countersign the advice of the council of ministers.
Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, when an operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam set off an RDX-laden belt she had under her belt. The LTTE was seeking revenge for the Indian government’s decision to send troops to Sri Lanka to help the island country fight the Tamil separatists.
In 1998, 26 people were sentenced to death for the conspiracy, but a year later the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of only four of them – Nalini Sriharan, Murugan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan, and AG Perarivalan. Three others – Jayakumar, Robert Payas and Ravichandran – were sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining 19 were freed. In 2000, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. In 2014, the top court commuted the death sentences of the other three as well, saying the Centre cannot unduly delay examining their mercy petitions.